New takes on velvet

Rockstars and dandies have long been a soft touch for the relaxed raffishness of velvet – but refined updates are broadening its appeal, says David Coggins

Massimo Alba cotton velvet trousers, £233
Massimo Alba cotton velvet trousers, £233

Years ago, in Hamburg, I stepped into the rarefied world of Rudolf Beaufays. One of the great secondhand stores, it is a singular collection of dramatic pieces from Beaufays’s archive, alongside endless racks of tweeds, Oxfords and brogues. Beaufays sat there like a king, smoking cigarettes and paging through the newspaper, but he would get up to make insightful recommendations for any man who entered. Digging through one of the racks, he pulled out a burgundy velvet blazer, raised an eyebrow approvingly and presented it to me as if it was the grail I’d been seeking. Then in my 20s, I was too shy to buy it, instead opting for a 1930s green hunting jacket – that I’ve yet to wear. I thought achingly of that velvet jacket many times, and it is only now, a decade later, that I have arrived at a more mature sartorial understanding of what’s what and invested in a one-button, burgundy velvet jacket. If only I’d listened to Beaufays in the first place, my path toward a relaxed raffishness would have been much more direct.

Alexander McQueen embroidered velvet jacket, £1,745
Alexander McQueen embroidered velvet jacket, £1,745
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I’m not alone in this belated appreciation of velvet. It’s having its moment in leading designer collections, including those by Tom Ford, Gucci, Lanvin and Alexander McQueen – and, most significantly, on men who have realised it has an ease and elegance that refers to formality without being constrained by it. Velvet has so much going for it – a wonderful touch, a lush texture, the ability to age gracefully – which is why it was once the fabric of royalty. What it is gaining are followers who are ready to wear velvet on their terms.

Saint Laurent velvet jacket, £1,525
Saint Laurent velvet jacket, £1,525
Dunhill cotton/velveteen jacket, £1,490
Dunhill cotton/velveteen jacket, £1,490

Too often, a man in a tuxedo looks like he’s wearing it against his will, whereas a man in a velvet jacket looks like he was eased into it, very much with his consent. So it’s not surprising that the dinner jacket remains the gateway for men’s arrival at velvet. But, increasingly, men are open to new equations – a velvet coat in an unexpected colour, say, such as Dunhill’s double-breasted jacket (£1,490) that veers intriguingly toward terracotta pink. And Etro’s elegant, slim‑fitting velvet blazer in petrol blue (£885) with narrow lapels and debossed dashes that increase the sense of texture (if that was even possible).

Blue Blue Japan stretch velour jacket, $525
Blue Blue Japan stretch velour jacket, $525
Saint Laurent velvet boots, £610
Saint Laurent velvet boots, £610

As Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, observes, “We have seen a growing interest in eveningwear in the past few seasons. It has become an area of a man’s wardrobe that he experiments with, exploring personal expression beyond the rigours of classic black-tie clothing.” This season, Pask is excited about a deep burgundy Alexander McQueen evening jacket ($1,895) with a contrasting black peak lapel – the sort of detail designers are introducing to velvet and to which men are increasingly open – and solid velvet styles ($2,395) in navy and black from Giorgio Armani. Pask notes the fabric’s elegance, but also its versatility – you can lose the bow tie and head to an exhibition opening. A velvet jacket, he says, “can be worn in a more relaxed way, with an open white shirt, dark jeans or pants for a dressy evening out.”

Polo Ralph Lauren velvet jacket, £495, and Ralph Lauren velvet slippers, £458
Polo Ralph Lauren velvet jacket, £495, and Ralph Lauren velvet slippers, £458
Etro debossed velvet blazer, £885
Etro debossed velvet blazer, £885

The velvet jacket has the air of something Jimmy Page might have worn at Chateau Marmont in the 1970s while racking up a historic room-service bill. That sensibility finds its contemporary equivalent at Saint Laurent, with its taste for rock music’s gleefully dissolute past. Saint Laurent goes deep into velour – velvet’s sibling, which shares many of its characteristics. Its black jacket (£1,525) with white piping feels like the most wonderful school uniform. Worn with tight gabardine trousers and an “I’m with the band” attitude, this was made for someone who thinks he’s a better dancer than Mick Jagger. Saint Laurent doesn’t end there; it offers burgundy velvet boots (£610) with fiercely pointed toes that are somewhere between guitar god and Wicked Witch of the West.  

Balenciaga velvet jeans, £455
Balenciaga velvet jeans, £455 | Image: George Ong
Dries Van Noten velvet dressing gown, £1,391
Dries Van Noten velvet dressing gown, £1,391

Viewed with an open mind, velvet can be an everyday fabric. It’s not surprising Massimo Alba, known for his skill with striking textures, is a fan. His Baglietto jacket (£420) is completely unstructured and couldn’t be easier to wear, while his field jacket (£683) shows that velvet translates even in an informal environment. In Alba’s hands it is treated with the nonchalance of a cardigan, but the most elegant cardigan you’ve ever owned. Wear it over a sweater, without a tie, over a polo shirt; you don’t even have to button it – that’s what Alba does. “I have a double-breasted blue velvet coat with a kind of military vibe. I wear it with a blue turtleneck and blue canvas trousers.” On Alba nothing in the world looks more natural.

Massimo Alba cotton-velvet field jacket, £683
Massimo Alba cotton-velvet field jacket, £683 | Image: George Ong
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Alba also has a pair of green velvet trousers (£233) that are the perfect counterpoint to anybody wearing sweatpants on a plane. If you want comfort with your dignity intact, you’ve found it. Balenciaga jumps into the trousers fray with velvet jeans (£455) that are so contradictory (shouldn’t jeans be made of denim?) you’ll know at once if they’ll suit you.

Josh Peskowitz, co-owner of Magasin, a designer men’s store in Los Angeles, isn’t afraid of velvet migrating all over the body. Take a direct approach to velvet, he advises, and don’t overthink it: “Wear velvet how you would wear a normal blazer or pants.” That said, Peskowitz is embracing the velvet vanguard, including a bomber ($1,250) from Japanese label Kolor and an indigo karate jacket ($525, pictured on previous pages) from Blue Blue Japan, which he simply calls “insane” (he means this as praise). It is the sort of forward-thinking clothing that will get approving glances during Fashion Week but won’t get you past the door at a gentlemen’s club.

Those who have already crossed the velvet threshold will respond to this season’s bolder interpretations. Dries Van Noten offers a shawl-collared burgundy dressing gown (£1,391) meant to be worn out of the boudoir and into town, day or night. To drive home the point of the type of man who might wear this, it’s emblazoned with a peacock. It’s the last word in indulgence, and that rare thing that deserves to be called luxurious. It would be perfectly appropriate in a country house in the hills above Kyoto or for lounging in gardens in Marrakech while sipping absinthe.

Embellished velvet is another distinction this season. Alexander McQueen has a burgundy jacket (£1,745) with crystal embroidery, like a Cy Twombly motif. On the runway it was paired with loose-fitting wool trousers with a velvet stripe (£695), a tuxedo cotton shirt (£275), though no tie, contrasted with white suede sneakers (£395). It was at once ornamental yet understated, and thoroughly modern. Sneaker sceptics (no need to apologise) should consider Polo Ralph Lauren’s runway look that teamed a blue velvet jacket (£495) with tartan trousers (£245) and velvet slippers (£458, all pictured top far left). It was a celebration of texture that managed not to gild the lily.

Velvet is having a moment because it combines elegance and decadence, formality and ease. At the same time, more men are looking toward classics that have been reimagined to meet their sensibilities. Armed with this confidence, they aren’t asking what they can do for velvet, they’re asking what velvet can do for them.

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